Case in point: the Social Security checks sent to the three younger children of Representative Pete Stark (D–CA). Stark is 80 years old, earns $174,000 a year as a Member of Congress, and has a personal fortune of about $27 million. Yet his kids get and will continue to get their government checks until they reach their 18th birthdays.
Stark is doing nothing illegal or untoward—that is just the way today’s Social Security works. Benefits for children and spouses were created back in 1939, when in most families, only the husband was employed. When he stopped work, the family had no more income other than a small Social Security check. Children’s benefits were intended to allow them to stay in school rather than go to work to support the family. No one expected these benefits to go to a millionaire’s kids.
It is well past time to thoroughly reform Social Security to meet the realities of the 21st century. It has been almost 30 years—a generation—since Congress last reviewed Social Security in 1983. In an era of trillion-dollar annual budget deficits and a Social Security program facing both $300 billion annual cash flow deficits in a few years and 25 percent benefit cuts thereafter, we just cannot afford using scarce resources to pay benefits to the very wealthy.
This is but one problem with the aging Social Security program. Another is that millions of low-income Americans have a Social Security benefit that is below the poverty line after working and paying taxes for the necessary 35 years.
A program that pays benefits to millionaire’s kids and pays too little to low-income seniors is a program with deep-seated problems. And there are many more, so fixing Social Security should entail a fundamental overhaul.
The Heritage Foundation’s Saving the American Dream plan provides such a reform. Under this plan, everyone would be insured by Social Security against retirement poverty. Almost everyone would receive benefits, and benefits would be far more generous than those that are currently provided—especially for low-income seniors. However, those with very high incomes after they reach eligibility age would see their benefits reduced or ended. If their circumstances changed for the worse, then benefits would re-start.
Under Saving the American Dream, scarce resources would be reserved for those who really need them, a category that does not include millionaires’ children. Stark would just have to get by with his $27 million.